Posted in Railways on Saturday 22nd August 2009 at 10:37pm

It was still dark when I left the house this morning. Not pitch black, but gloomy enough to remind me that summer is drawing on, and I'll soon be travelling to work in the dark too. Today's forecast was uncertain too - which made me wonder whether the gloom was just cloud cover, with my thoughts naturally turning to a certain cricket match being played today. Today's trip took me eastwards - almost as far as one can go in that direction in fact. Essex and Suffolk are areas which I've neglected in my travels over the years, partly because historically it's not been easy to work the timetable to my advantage. More recently, it's been more about laziness and my preference for points north - and I've found myself heading east usually when there's nothing much doing elsewhere. That's unfair though, because I've almost always had interesting trips this way which have thrown up plenty of surprises. First though, the tried and tested routine of an early ride up to London. The sky brightened as we sped along through Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and as we slowed for arrival at Paddington the NENTA tour to Paignton passed with a flash of sunlight from the pristine 47760. Eager to get to Liverpool Street for a cup of decent coffee, and despite the Bishopsgate entrance being a filthy, cigarette strewn dust-trap, it was hard not to enjoy the warm August morning as the street grew busier.

At this point I realised that Liverpool Street - not usually at it's busiest on a weekend - was exceptionally crowded with younger passengers. Many of them were carrying pop-up tents and rucksacks too. It dawned on me that once again in my railway and work-addled state I'd let a bit of popular culture pass me by - this weekend saw the V festival come to Chelmsford. Wedged myself into a first class compartment on the Clacton service as soon as it was called, but this didn't stop an invasion! A busy but not unpleasant ride out of Liverpool Street followed!

321332 prepares to leave Walton-on-the-Naze
321332 prepares to leave Walton-on-the-Naze

From Colchester onwards, as we took the curve away from the mainline, I was on new ground. The landscape soon changed from rolling countryside to the flat, rivulet-cracked marshes which typify the coast of Essex. As we passed Thorpe-le-Soken, where the Clacton and Walton lines diverge, the coast was visible to the south, with an impressive line of brooding wind turbines stalking out to sea. One of my fellow passengers remarked "how ugly!" as they came into view. After curving through caravan parks, we finally arrived at the impressive seaside terminus. Clacton station has much in common with other seaside termini I've visited, and these stations do somehow retain a bit of a special feeling. Despite the embarrassment of having to face the quizzical looks of the same guard who had just checked my ticket on the inbound train, it was quite fun to queue at the barrier in the old fashioned way to board the working back to Thorpe-le-Soken.

On arrival at Thorpe, a small human drama was unfolding. A multi-buggied Essex mum was wandering up and down the platform with her older offspring and an utterly foul-mouthed older woman pushing a trolley, who I can only assume was her mother. They seemed to want to board the London train I'd just left, but after putting her two older children onboard, they sort of wandered off, with the mother cursing and spitting at staff and showing no signs of boarding. In the general melee, the train left on time with two children on board, but mother and child still swearing at each other on the platform! Cue scenes of panic and lots of shouts of "My f**king babies!". The service was, the older woman claimed, "f**king criminal!". I have to say the station staff, and the guard of the following Colchester service were amazing. They quickly contacted staff on the train to make sure the children were safe, and mother was put in touch with children. A plan was formulated to reunite the family swiftly, and all was sorted in mere minutes. Not good enough for the family though, with the old crone shouting "You should be f**king ashamed of yourselves, I'm going to the f**king papers about this!" before confidentially adding to her pale and clearly distressed daughter "There ought to be some f**king compensation in this for us, love!".

After watching these events unfold under bright sunshine, which perhaps was affecting the usually more reserved British temperament, I boarded the next train down to Walton-on-the-Naze, a station which has seen a fair bit of tinkering with it's name over the years - both gaining and losing the definite article along with it's hyphens over the years. On the way, passed through the recently replaced 'gates' at Frinton. This level crossing was iconic in separating the 'nice' side of town from the 'not so nice', and was instrumental for many decades in completing the separation which the apparently somewhat stuffy folk of Frinton wished to establish from their fringe communities. A dawn raid by Network Rail saw to the replacement of these older gates with a newer model as part of the resignalling around this area. The new gates didn't appear too out of place, and indeed were much older in style than others on the line. Frinton itself appeared tired, the station a graffitied concrete shell. It wasn't entirely clear what they were trying to protect here, and from whom? Onwards to Walton, terminating in a pleasantly leafy station, sadly much reduced from it's earlier importance.

90009 snakes into Colchester
90009 snakes into Colchester

From Walton, I took the stopping service all the way back to Colchester, which allowed me to cover the other two sides of the triangle leading to Colchester Town station. The train was busy but not overcrowded, and we made surprisingly quick progress back up the branch. After a reversal at Colchester Town, we curved back onto the mainline and arrived at one of the bay platforms at Colchester. This station is rather a mess of bays, staggered through platforms and sidings, and there is a woeful lack of useful announcements or passenger information. Had a brief refreshment stop, and then realised that I'd positioned myself at the wrong platform for the service I'd planned to catch back into London! Being in no hurry, flagged the Class 360 in favour of 90009 which followed a few minutes later with an express to Liverpool Street. A much quieter mainline journey this time, with the festival revellers safely in Chelmsford. A fairly quick and efficient switch onto the Circle Line and back to Paddington for the train home.

Since a future railtour promises to cover all of the other mainline track I've not covered in this corner of the country, today was an opportunity to tick off some outlying extremities of the network. What it also showed though was that small seaside termini can be effectively turned into busy rail hubs with a good electrified commuter service. With recent word on wiring up the Great Western, perhaps this is something which local rail campaigners in my part of the world need to push for in terms of our local services too?

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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